Saturday, October 22, 2011

VanBC Day 2 Afternoon/Evening: Granville and a Chinese Dinner?

The centerpiece of Granville Island is the Public Market. It is a large building housing dozens of vendors who sell fresh produce, poultry, soaps, jams, jewelry, native art, many cooked food vendors, and much more. For those in Portland, it is like Saturday Market and a Farmer's Market rolled into one indoor experience. It is reason enough to become a Canadian (assuming you have the income level to subsist in this spendy town) all by itself.

On this day, it was still quite drizzly so just being under the roof was a great service. We wandered through slowly and enjoyed the wonders without buying anything at this time. We left the public market for lunch at the nearby The Sandbar. With views of False Creek and cloth napkins, this restaurant seemed upscale, but one thing we found out is that price is uniformly pretty high in BC and only partially due to the 10+% HST tax. You might as well eat at nicer places because the greasy spoons (or General Tso's bone emporium) aren't much different in price. I had a salmon burger and Ladybug went for a small sirloin steak.

From there, we went back to the market and bought some apples from the Okanagan (assuming the BC side rather than Washington), some organic grapes, and some local pastries for breakfast to save calories and money and allow us to move more lazily in the morning without worrying about sustenance. We then took our boat back to the train and headed back to the hotel.

Medical Aside: Permanent conditions and pain management

I have a ruptured post-tibial tendon in my left calf/foot that was misdiagnosed and became apparent over the course of years. At this point in time there is nothing to be done surgically that wouldn't carry consequences as serious as the condition. So I have a severe pronation in my gait (arch collapsed inward) that tends to pull other bones (right sacroiliac, I am talking to you) out of position.

We made a decision to use public transit instead of driving everywhere. While there are many pluses to this decision, it does involve a lot of walking. I do have a custom-built ankle brace with does improves things quite a bit, but walking miles each day does bring out the pain in my foot and back.

Advil does take the edge off, but I found myself with severe arch pain after day 2. I was able to use a gel sheet from my backup brace placed just below the worst pain spot to really make a difference for the rest of the week. Nonetheless, when I returned to the hotel at the end of day 2, my foot was really hurting. Sometimes it pays to use the MacGyver approach. The full effect of this didn't happen until after dinner however.

After relaxing for a while, we decided to seek out dinner. After our experiences on Day 1, we decided to refrain from local Asian cuisine using based on our shaky experience eating bones and nudged around at the market. Though it was obvious that we were intruding in some areas where we were clearly not welcomed, it would be premature to make a blanket decision about the whole area. Even so, we opted to go farther afield in order to find alternate cuisine for dinner.

There was an Italian place called Cucina Toscana about 5 blocks away. That sounded good. We started walking. Well, the blocks were rather long and 5 blocks ended up being about 1/2 mile (0.9 km). With each passing block, Chinese characters graced of every business along the way (sometimes with English subtitles). Three, four, and five blocks and and this was still the case. When we reached our Italian restaurant, it was in a 100% Asian business center and the Italian restaurant was announced in large Chinese characters with English subtitles. So much for escaping Chinaburb geographically.

Entering the restaurant was a different matter. The young man who greeted us was definitely Asian, but the table layout was Italian. The fabric curtain partially hiding the kitchen was very Chinese as was the layout of the kitchen I saw behind. I was worried as anyone with useless stereotypes in his head would be. I needn't have worried.

Our host was quiet and very pleasant; he brought us the obligatory Italian bread plate and told us about the menu. I ordered the house white wine to start and Ladybug ordered an interesting and very different beverage. It was hot water with honey and lemon and she found it to be very pleasant. Sometimes it is nice to enjoy a pleasant beverage without alcohol or caffeine.

Ladybug ordered fettucine with chicken and I went for a seafood penne dish. They were both quite tasty and coupled well with our beverages. Any residual collective blame for the crummy lunch incident was expunged with this fine meal. Since we were the only customers for the entire experience, we tipped somewhere around 30% to make up for the lack of business a little bit. [We ate at the Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch today around home and it was comparatively nowhere near as good. Good cuisine transcends national origin.]

We walked back to the hotel in the waning light. The pain in my arch was growing quite acute on the way back. I was happy to return to the hotel. We spoke about what to do on day 3 and decided to hit a couple of big tourist traps.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

VanBC Day 2 Morning: Pannekoeken and Granville

One of the fortunate things about our location in Vancouver was our proximity to the Canada Line of the BC Transit SkyTrain. Well, they call it a sky train, and it is an elevated line for some of its length, then it becomes a subway for the rest of the way into downtown.

Ladybug recalled a nice Dutch pancake experience from an earlier trip, so after some research, we found a place called De Dutch that appeared to be in the location she remembered. She remembered the name, "Original Dutch Pannekoek House" but I could not find that. I did not find out until after we got home that De Dutch was a renaming of the old place. The link goes to a quite interesting history for those so inclined.

We managed to board the train during the Monday morning commute. We were in for a bit more culture shock. Riders of Portland, Oregon's MAX train line seem to run the gamut of types, colors, styles, and personalities. In Vancouver, boarding the train seemed more a trip to the land of Kafka. Though the terminal and train cars were nice, airy, and light, the passengers were overwhelmingly decked in the gloomy colors of streets and rain. Black, gray, and tan were the order for the day. Urbane telecommuters wore designer shades of it and students and the working class had mass market or counterculture versions of the same colors. Ladybug and I looked like the little girl in Schindler's List on Monday morning with our bright colored clothes and jackets. Also, while Portland trains have some level of noise and conversation, this line was nearly silent save for the grind of the tracks and the automated announcer. Most riders had their noses buried into their phone where, I presume, they carried out a 4 inch version of their lives.

A colorful art display beneath an overpass

We detrained at (formerly) Olympic village and found De Dutch easily enough. The woman who served us was quite talkative and friendly and hosted our meal admirably. Here is an excerpt from their menu:

I ordered the meal of the left while Ladybug tried the dish on the lower right. We started a recurring theme for the week wherein I ordered green tea and she would order a breakfast tea with milk. Luckily for Ladybug, tea with milk is a given in a place called British Columbia. In Oregon, they often believe that a mix of chemicals called creamer will suffice. It never does. Our breakfast went a long way to wipe away the horrors of Sunday's boney, gristly lunch.

From there, we hopped on the train past downtown and on to the waterfront. We wandered around for a bit, then trundled up through Gas Town to be regaled by the more touristy aspects of Vancouver. Since it was off-season, it was a much quieter place with several businesses closed for the season.

The Gas Town Steam Clock (and my finger)

We did our duty as consumers by stopping by a store filled with maple leaf t-shirts, hats, moose themed items, etc. and got a few things to give to moms, dads, etc. Then it was back on the train, then off, then on a little boat to take us to Granville Island.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

VanBC Day 1: Don't Mess with the Yaohan

It seemed like a good idea for Ladybug and I to get away for our first trip alone since our honeymoon 10 years ago. Destination: Vancouver, BC, Canada. I was able to get a good hotel discount and the plane tickets were fairly reasonable. We were so busy prior to leaving for Vancouver BC that packing and leaving came up on us by surprise. We must be old pros because we didn't forget anything of consequence.

The first serious rain of autumn had just started in Portland when we took off to the airport. With my new ankle brace, I have to actually sit on the floor to take off my shoes in airport security (all the chairs are on the other side of the scanners). The brace is designed for the shoe and the rounded heel is not a good fit for walking, so I face the decision of exacerbating a permanent injury (removing it) or risk injuring something else by walking anyway. All of this because some dork tried something, failed, and the DHS Permanent Overreaction Squad makes the rest of us suffer (read Bruce Schneier to find out why it doesn't work). I decided to hobble through in my socks.

It was a nice, short flight into Vancouver and it was dryer there, though still damp. Canadian customs asked us a few questions and we were off and running. We had to wait about 45 minutes for our shuttle to the hotel (which was about 3 miles away), so maybe not running.

Our room wasn't ready yet, so we checked the bags in at the desk and wandered off in search of lunch. What we didn't know was that we were walking into a major culture shock. I am not talking about back bacon, Molsons, and hockey jerseys. I am talking about walking into China. After leaving the hotel, we were definitely in the minority with our round eyes and pasty skin, as in 5%. Vancouver has a Chinatown so Richmond must be Chinaburb. This was not a polyglot Asian area either; it was pretty much Chinese as far as I could tell. We walked through a food market and were bumped and jostled by people who were walking through us rather than around us. It was weird and interesting for about 2 minutes, then it was annoying. A person can wait a long time when trying to be courteous and move aside for others. Yep. Culture shock.

After failing to find an eatery that fit our mood, we moved farther afield. Yaohan market is like a shopping mall in any other part of Canada except that only about 1/2 the signs had English translations. We visited the food court and found a couple of places that had some pretty good looking food...I guess what you would call "American" Chinese food. We didn't go to Canada looking for a food adventure.

Well, we got one anyway. We both ordered combo plates. Ladybug's had a chicken entree with pineapple, beef with broccoli, and fried rice. I opted for a breaded chicken entree (similar to General Tso's or Orange Chicken), a vegetable mix, and the chow mein noodles. Ladybug's didn't turn out too bad. The meat wasn't super high quality (kind of fatty), but not bad.

I bit into my first nugget of chicken and it was half bone, half cartilage under the breading. Well, that could have gone better but I tossed it aside because these things happen, right? The vegetables were okay, but slimy and mostly tasteless. Sadly, they were the highlight of my meal (other than stealing a bit of Ladybug's meal). The noodles were cooked in oil that tasted old enough for the biodiesel reclamation barrel. No problem, I thought, I will just have more of the chicken. Except there wasn't any. There were about 10 breaded nuggets and they were all bone and cartilage. Every one. I choked down enough noodles to keep me going until dinner, threw away half my "meal", and moved on.

We kept walking through the mall, but the experience left me in a sour mood. There was a food market with a large display of dried shrimp. To me, it stunk like it had been there too long. There were various phone stores, purse shops, etc. with nothing we were interested in, so we gave up and headed back to the hotel. It took another hour for our room to be ready so we just hung out in the lobby and waited, talked about what to do for the week, and muttered about how crazy lunch was.

After we got into the room and settled in, we had dinner at the hotel (which was a Radisson) and had our first good meal in BC. We made some travel notes and decided to plan only one day ahead for this trip. All in all, it was a quiet night and off to more fun stuff on Monday.

Monday, October 03, 2011


I have a tale of my worst restaurant meal in years...but it will have to wait until I have better internet access.